A Look into How the Workwear Industry Has Changed Over the Last 100 Years

Workwear is ever-changing and evolving depending on the needs of its workers and the industries they work within, but fashion trends as a whole within each decade dictate the fashion much more than thought within workwear.

Throughout the past 100 years what workers are wearing to work has changed significantly, as job roles change and develop, the need for industry-specific workwear has grown. The gear you wear to work is one of the most important elements of your job, from service workers to public sector workers, items such as work boots, goggles, and overalls have been an important staple of any workers wardrobe for years.

Workwear has been used to showcase certain groups of people and shows the divide between blue-collar and white-collar workers for many years now. Learning from Brian Sewell at My Workgear we can see how the workwear industry has developed and how closely this is related to the world of fashion as well as how workwear has been used to define eras.

When you think about workwear, it’s obvious to think of classic pieces such as mechanics blue overalls or a typical high vis jacket. However, that has not always been the case, the development of workwear has come very far over the past 100 years. 

1910’s

Military uniforms dominated the workwear industry and the decade, showcasing functionality over comfort in this era. This type of workwear is something that is not associated typically with everyday trades in 2021.

After the war, middle-class businessmen wore white collars to differentiate themselves from lower-class blue-collar workers, which is one of the first examples of how workwear can be used to showcase a divide between classes. 

1920’s

The 1920s saw a rise in overalls, especially within the automotive industry. This rise was put in place to help increase employee safety, after increasing concerns for workers health and safety within the workplace.

Since men within this decade worked long hours for mostly low wages, the clothes they wore to work became their after-work and weekend clothing. So these items of clothing had to withstand the elements whilst being practical and functional.

1940’s

The era of fabric rationing and cutbacks meant workwear needed to be basic. Male workers opted for utility clothing with no details, pockets, or cuffs. Overalls, coveralls, and matching uniform sets were the pinnacle of workwear fashion in 1940.

Between the ’40s to ’60s little changed in the workwear styles, however, materials colours and fit did differ through industries.

1970’s

Casualwear took over men’s wardrobes in the ’70s and so did the Blue Cotton Workwear Jacket. Stylistic choices were made in this era when it came to workwear. Denim was introduced into the world of workwear and heavily worn throughout the ’70s.

1990’s

With the rise of streetwear and workwear in fashion due to the influence of the music scene, workwear started to become trendy within everyday fashion. Workwear became more relaxed and overalls were worn by the masses both in everyday wear and in workwear.  

2000’s and beyond

Into the present day, the industrial and service industries tend to wear t-shirts and polo shirts that are cheap to buy and easy to replace, with a company logo. Businesses used the placement of logos on workwear as advertising for their brands. 

Within the 2000s there was a shift to the overly masculine aesthetic within workwear, seen in advertisements across the media, showcasing the narrative that men in workwear were the height of masculinity, and in this time sexualised. This was the first time that blue-collar workers were sexualised due to their work clothing. 

In today’s society, the need for strict dress codes within workplaces has changed. We are seeing less lenient dress codes and with this, we are seeing multiple trends within the workwear industry. People are now looking for workwear to be more measured and considered to how the item of clothing will work for the worker, rather than the other way around.

The biggest changes seen within workwear over the century are how workwear is updating to its users, becoming more user friendly, and enabling workers to do their tasks easier. At present, the public views workwear as a way to build trust between the worker and their skills, rather than just a piece of clothing worn as a uniform.

Discover your next work uniform at My Workgear today.

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